Which streaming set-top box comes out on top?The Amazon Fire TV is now available in the UK, and it’s currently the closest thing to an Apple TV rival – that is until the Nexus Player comes along anyway.
Both are small, black set-top boxes that bring smart TV functionality to your TV with the likes of BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video and more. But, the Amazon Fire TV has an added string to its bow, and that’s the fact it doubles as an Android gaming console.
But, is it really better than the Apple TV? We put the two set-top boxes to the test to see which one comes out on top.
Amazon Fire TV vs Apple TV: DesignAt first look, the Amazon Fire TV is quite a bit larger than the Apple TV, with the Fire TV measuring up at 115 x 115mm compared to the Apple TV’s 98mm by 98mm.
However, the Fire TV is considerably slimmer at 17.5mm, while the Apple TV is 23mm.
In terms of design aesthetics though, Apple and Amazon have both opted for the black theme. Both set-top boxes have matte black tops, with a gloss trim around the edges. It really helps let both boxes blend seamlessly into your TV unit, not acting as another huge addition to your set-up.
Pretty much the only different, apart from slight size differences, is that the Fire TV is very much a sharp edged square box, while the Apple TV has rounded corners and a softer footprint.
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Amazon Fire TV vs Apple TV: Remote ControlsUnlike alternate devices like the Chromecast, both Fire TV and Apple TV come with remote controls for navigating the UI.
The Apple TV remote is far simpler in terms of design and functionality than the Fire TV remote. The Apple TV’s is a slimline, lightweight silver metal remote with four directional buttons surrounding a select button, and only two further buttons – play/pause and menu.
The Fire TV iteration on the other hand is a far more complicated affair. You still have the directional buttons arranged in a circle with the select button in the centre. However, instead of two additional buttons, the Fire TV actually has seven beyond these basic navigational buttons. The first row below these are your conventional Android soft touch buttons: back, home and options. On the next row down there’s rewind, play/pause and fast forward buttons for media control.
It’s the microphone button at the top of the Fire TV remote that really sets it apart from the Apple TV. If you hold this button down when on any screen with the Fire TV UI, you can use voice commands to navigate to any Instant Prime Video content or other apps or games titles.
The Amazon Fire TV remote is chunkier than the Apple TV remote, too. It’s a matte black offering that does tend to mark a lot easier than the Apple TV remote, but the Fire TV remote is soft touch and far less easy to lose.
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Operating System – iOS vs AndroidThe big difference between the two boxes is of course their operating systems. The Apple TV runs a version of Apple’s own iOS, which you won’t find on any of Apple’s other devices.
The Fire TV runs Android, but like other Amazon Fire devices, it’s a heavily modified version that utilizes HTML 5 for a very slick experience.
Each custom software puts media content at the fore, where content images fill your screen for a rather beautiful experience for TV and movie content, regardless of the box you’re using.
Amazon Fire TV vs Apple TV: User InterfaceIf you’re an Amazon Prime Instant Video member, or plan to be in the near future, the Fire TV has an absolutely fantastic use interface. All Amazon Prime Instant Video content is immediately accessible directly from the home screen, without having to navigate through separate apps.
Not only that but Amazon’s other rentable or purchasable content is all there on the home screen, and that goes for games and apps as well as media content.
That means – as long as you are tied into Amazon’s services already – the Fire TV makes it far easier to navigate to your content than the Apple TV.
However, we might add that this is only the case with Amazon content. Content contained within apps like Plex or Netflix is still locked away behind their relavant app icons. You can’t even grab results from within these services when searching either, something offered by alternative set-top box the Roku 3.
The Apple TV has some elements of the Fire TV easy navigation system in that it has a row of Featured iTunes content along the top, but all of the other Apple TV apps or Channels are presented in a block below that content. Anyone who uses an Apple (or Android for that matter) device will be familiar with its app-led user interface. Within those apps though, the Apple TV UI is still as strongly media led as the Fire TV. It just takes a few more steps to get to that stage.
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Apple TV vs Amazon Fire TV: GamingFirst, let’s get the easy part out of the way. Apple TV has nothing in the way of native iOS gaming support. There’s no way of downloading a game to the little black box and playing it with a supported controller or even just with the remote.
You can use AirPlay to stream gaming content from your iPad, iPhone or Mac to your TV via Apple TV, but that’s all you can do at present.
This is where the Fire TV excels in comparison. It doesn’t quite have full access to the Amazon or Google Play stores in terms of game content, but it does offer a lot of big name titles to enjoy in full 1080p HD resolution.
Amazon offers the Fire TV Controller as a separate £34.99 purchase for those who want more of a console experience. Some of the better known titles actually only work with the Fire TV Controller, like The Walking Dead or GTA: San Andreas for example.
However, if you just want a touch of Android gaming for casual sessions on the Fire TV, you can play games like Hill Climb Racer or Flappy Bird Family just with the remote. It’s surprisingly fun, when you’ve worked out which buttons do what anyway.
SEE ALSO: Best Fire TV Games
Amazon Fire TV vs Apple TV: HardwareAn Android gaming console come streaming box wouldn’t be much use without some impressive internal hardware to back it up. Thus, it’s not surprising that the Amazon Fire TV is considerably more powerful than the Apple TV.
The Fire TV features a quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Krait 300 processor with Adreno 320 graphics and 2GB of RAM. On paper it’s considerably more powerful as the Apple TV uses an Apple A5 processor, which is the same chip as in the ageing iPad 2. This only is obvious when playing games as the basic navigation on both is slick and smooth, but you're clearly getting more for your money with the Fire TV.
There’s also the amount of internal storage available to consider. The Fire TV has 8GB of internal storage, which currently can’t be expanded via USB or external hard drive, despite the fact it features a USB port around the back.
As for the Apple TV, Apple doesn’t let on how much RAM it has, but it does come with around 8GB of internal storage. This isn't use accessible storage, however, as its used for storing cached on-demand video and software.
You might not think that internal storage is an issue for devices like this. But as you can install games on the Fire TV, you might find you run out of space pretty quickly if you start installing larger titles like Machinarium, The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us.
Of course, both devices allow you to use other services to get additional content on your device. With the Apple TV, you can use AirPlay to stream content to your TV from any iOS devices like the iPhone 6 or iPad Air 2, or from your Mac.
The Fire TV does a similar thing with Amazon Kindle Fire tablets too, but via Second Screen for Amazon Fire Phone and Amazon Fire HDX tablets.
See also: Best Tablets Round-up 2014
Amazon Fire TV vs Apple TV: PriceIt’s price where the Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV are on an even keel. Both set-top boxes are priced at £79, but in order to get the full gaming experience with Fire TV you will need to pay the extra £34.99 for the controller.
VerdictWhether you choose to purchase an Amazon Fire TV or an Apple TV really depends on what you’re looking to get out of your set-top box. Both offer a full range of streaming services, with Fire TV edging out a little because its library includes Plex.
If you’re already an Instant Prime Video member or are planning to be, the Fire TV is the obvious winner in terms of streaming content. All of the Prime Instant Video is displayed on the home screen, meaning you can get straight into your media content without having to navigate through separate apps.
There’s that extra added step for the Apple TV, as all content is locked behind app systems.
Of course, if you’re looking to get in on the mobile gaming action on your TV, the Fire TV is currently the only streaming set-top box that offers this functionality. We’re still waiting for Apple to release an updated version of Apple TV with iOS gaming built on, but seeing as we’re nearing the end of 2014, we might have to wait until next year for that one.
Next, read our Fire TV vs Roku 3 comparison.